2 Reasons You’re Not Selling as Much Art as You Could

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Do you sell art in two or more different mediums?

Maybe sometimes you work on paper with dry media (pencils, charcoal, etc) and other times you work on canvas with paint. . . have you noticed your pencil work selling more slowly than other mediums?

I certainly have!

My specialty has always been horse portraits, and for over 40 years my favorite mediums have been oil and colored pencil. I sold a lot of commissioned portraits in both mediums, but did most with oils because that’s what people wanted and I was most confident in oils.

Once I started doing more colored pencil work, my sales grew. But I still sold more oil paintings than colored pencil pieces, even though most clients couldn’t tell one from the other.

I often wondered why dry media doesn’t sell as well as wet, and maybe you have too. Over the years, I’ve come up with two reasons why that’s the case. Today, I’m going to share those reasons with you, and how we can overcome them!

1. It costs a LOT to get art ready to sell

People make all kinds of decisions based on cost, and art is no different. Unless a potential buyer really likes a particular work of art, they may very well opt for a lower-priced piece, even if they liked a more expensive artwork more.

And why does art cost so much?

Often, it’s the frame. Even if you frame cheaply (which I do not recommend) you’re going to add that cost to the overall price of the art and pass it along to your buyer. At least I hope you are!

Interestingly, oil and acrylic paintings only require a simply frame, at most. Some require no framing at all.

Artwork on paper, however (like my colored pencil work) typically involves a back support of some kind, at least one mat and maybe two or three, as well as glazing and the frame.

When you add archival or museum quality materials and/or fancy mat cutting and high dollar frames, and the price of framing can easily exceed the price of the artwork. This gets passed on the customer, which definitely influences sales, especially since the size of dry media artwork is often not that large to begin with.

So what you can do to reduce the cost of framing?

The best way I found to reduce framing costs with my colored pencil art was to work on a rigid support such as Pastelbord. You can finish the piece simply by protecting the artwork with a varnish that’s safe for colored pencils, and then drop it into a standard frame just like any oil painting.

The cost to you is greatly reduced and your buyer can acquire the art for less.

NOTE: Several high-quality drawing papers now come mounted to rigid supports, or you can mount your own, if you want to take the time. Some artists even use colored pencils on canvas (yes, the kind made for oil or acrylic painting) or wood. Neither of those supports require special framing unless they’re very large.

Want another way to reduce your framing costs? Work in standard sizes. Any time you work in a standard size, you increase your framing options. Standard-size frames—even nice ones—are often less expensive than frames that need to be custom made.

My favorite solution is to look online for frames, as well as in framing shops. Many online frame shops now give you the option of uploading your image so you can try it with different framing combinations. This is a great way to reduce the cost of framing, even if you end up paying for shipping.

TIP: When you buy online, you’ll need to install the art into the frame yourself, but there’s another bonus hidden hereyou can ship the framed art to your client in the same box that you received the frame! Win-win.

Finally, make sure to give customers the option to buy unframed art, especially if you have to ship it. Most dry mediums that are varnished and created for longevity will survive shipment rolled up in a tube. Just don’t roll it too tight.

And if you’re selling to buyers directly at art fairs or exhibits, just keep some mailing tubes handy so you can unframe a piece and send it home safely with the new owner if they decide not to purchase the frame. Sure, it’s not the perfect situation, but worth considering if it means the difference between a sale and no sale.

And what’s the second reason dry media doesn’t sell as well?

2. The market is biased towards paintings

Broadly speaking, I think the poorer sales of dry media is related to market bias. There is the perception that any artwork that involves paint and/or canvas has got to be more permanent than any artwork involving pencil and/or paper.

Paint and canvas equal permanence. Pencil and paper, not so much. That is not a true statement across the board, but it is the way people often think. Where does that idea come from? Unfortunately, it often comes from us artists.

It may be subtle, but many artists consider colored pencil to be “something I do on the side”; a companion medium to their primary medium. I struggled for a long time with the idea that no matter how good my colored pencil drawings were, they would never be as good as my oil paintings.

That wasn’t true, but it still affected my attitude toward my colored pencil pieces. Which affected the way I marketed them to potential buyers, and that affected sales.

Clients and customers can tell if you lack confidence in your work. If they sense that you think one type of work is more valuable/salable than another, they will shy away from the undervalued work, even if they really like it.

Is there anything we can do to eliminate the problem of public perception? Absolutely! We need better education. And I’m not talking about art schools.

I’m talking about educating ourselves on the history (and quality!) of artwork created with dry media. Learn everything you can about your own particular medium. Get comfortable talking about pencil quality, paper quality, archival methods and framing, and all that stuff.

Be able to talk about the history of your medium, how long some of it has been around, and how good it still looks.

And of course, use the best, most archival materials you can afford. The last thing you want is to have your once-happy collector coming back because their artwork has faded away, because you used fugitive colors.

Above all, stop being down on your own work. I said earlier that customers pick up on your attitude if you’re dismissive toward your work—and they’ll also pick up on your enthusiasm if you are genuinely passionate about what you’ve created.

Who knows, that may be your biggest hurdle. . . but fortunately, it can be overcome! Because if you can talk about your work, and honestly be excited about it, no matter the medium, that will always translate into better sales.


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